Chapter 15

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Sitting at her desk at the Newport state police barracks, Petronia had trouble concentrating. She had dreams and ambitions that her ex-husband Charlie never could accept. After college he had quickly found a job in Harrisburg. With his degree in finance and MBA, the man seemed stable, solid, and sensible. A firm foundation for raising a family.

She never hid her desire about wanting a career in law enforcement. Charlie asked her to marry him clearly knowing what she wanted. He was supportive when she had applied to the state police academy. Petronia wondered now whether he had assumed she would wash out because of being a woman.

On the job now for four years as a trooper, she hoped someday to become a detective. Breaking a cold case murder could earn her that opportunity. She wasn't working this hobby case just for Barlow.

Petronia tried picturing what her life would be like had she married Barlow. There was never a time during her childhood and teen years where he wasn't protective of her. A girl couldn't ask for a finer friend. Or lover. Soul mates  was an overused cliché, yet that's what they had been back then. Maybe they still were?

Which is why she felt so abandoned after he had ghosted on her. Was she being a fool sticking her neck out again for a man who had deserted her once before?

A few of her fellow colleagues milled around the station, but most of the troopers on her shift had already taken to the road. She was waiting to see her barracks commander, Lieutenant Jardine. He sat in his office on the phone behind a wall of glass. She waited until he hung up before approaching and knocking.

The man motioned for her to enter. "Are you here to discuss that dirt bag, Slay Gunther?"

Pet took a seat in the visitor chair across the desk from him. "No. That's water under the bridge."

"Just so you know, the DA informed me he read your report and is taking your side. He wants to see the man do jail time over the way he behaved during your encounter with him."

"Wouldn't break my heart," Petronia said, "but I want to ask you about something else."

The lieutenant raised an eyebrow.

She cleared her throat. "There's a hobby case I'd like to pursue." She went on to tell the lieutenant how an informant tipped her to some new information about an old, unsolved case, but she didn't reveal any details. She finished by reminding him of her goal to someday become a detective. The hobby case would be good experience for her.

"I can't see the harm in it," he said, "if you pursue it on your own time."

She stood. "Will do, LT."

"And loop me in if you discover anything actionable."

That evening, after her shift, Petronia sat at a computer terminal to begin her research

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That evening, after her shift, Petronia sat at a computer terminal to begin her research.

"Ten years ago," she mumbled. Finding the report about the car accident didn't take long. She remembered that day, the police cars in front of her house and the ambulance. Nothing appeared in the case file she hadn't already known. Neil Mantener, 22, drove his car at a high rate of speed and ended up in the Juniata River. The coroner pronounced him dead due to drowning. Simple as that. No mention of any money. Interviews with family and friends provided no explanation as to what Mantener was doing in Perry County at that hour of morning.

A bit of a mystery perhaps, but nothing that would warrant a follow up. From experience, she knew most of the time there was no explanation as to why people did the crazy things they did to get into trouble.

Finding information about the convention center robbery was trickier. That case had been handled by the Harrisburg barracks. She would be able to locate digital records, but any physical evidence would be located off site, and she would have to make an official request to access it.

Petronia entered the year of the incident and search terms: Harrisburg Convention Center and Summer National Sports and Outdoor Show.

Her computer display listed a date, case number, and name of the detective assigned to the case, a man named Custer Graham. She didn't know Custer Graham and had never heard of him. She opened the computer file to access the details. Ordinarily, a robbery investigation, especially one of this magnitude, would generate hundreds of pages detailing timelines, evidence, and interviews.

The file contained only one page with one typed line. It read:  Administratively Closed.

"What the hell?" She stared at the screen. Administratively Closed? What did that mean? She had never run across anything like it before.

Morg Johansson, a trooper first class who worked night duty entered the barracks. He was a big man with a solid build. Morg once joked with her how he had descended from a long line of Swedish lumberjacks. A decent guy. Having been a trooper for fifteen years, he could've opted for day shift or moved up the chain of command. He was a loner who preferred working nights and on patrol.

"Hey, Morg, can I bother you a minute?"

The man smiled and approached. He towered over Petronia while she remained seated at the computer. "Talking with you is never a bother. What's up?"

"Did you ever run across a police report tagged with the phrase, administratively closed?"

Morg's eyes went wide, and he sucked in a breath. "What have you gotten yourself into, Trooper Henning?"

Surprised at the way her question had unnerved him, she worried she might have stumbled onto something unauthorized. Before she could explain, Morg gently laid a hand on her shoulder. He glanced around the barracks as if concerned someone might overhear their conversation. In a low voice, he said, "Whatever you're researching, drop it. Forget you saw what you saw."

"You can't just leave me hanging with a statement like that. What gives, Morg?"

"Administratively closed is a euphemism meaning the case has been deemed too sensitive to maintain in the police database."

"I get it. Hardcopy only, probably kept in an office safe somewhere." She knew there was little chance she'd be able to gain access to the case file. Barlow was going to be disappointed, and she would need a different case to prove her detective skills.

Morg shook his head. "No, you don't  get it. Administratively closed means that no digital data exists, no hardcopy, no evidence whatsoever. The public is told the investigation is ongoing, but in reality, the case is spiked."

She went quiet and tried wrapping her mind around his words.

He took another look around before saying, "It takes someone way, way up the food chain to stop an investigation, a person with powerful political connections."

Stunned, she said, "Maybe I'm naïve, but are you telling me there are people who are above the law, people who wield enough clout they can order the Pennsylvania State Police to stand down from an active investigation? That's unbelievable."

Morg leaned in inches from her face. "Here's what you'd better believe. Continue poking around an administratively closed case, and you'll likely be fired. Or worse."

Pet has stumbled onto something big

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Pet has stumbled onto something big. Any theories as to what it might be?

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